Tuesday, May 27, 2008

X-FORCE ANNUAL #3 – 1994

In Deep
Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mike Wieringo (penciler), John Lowe (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Adriane (colorist)

Moonstar continues to work undercover within the Mutant Liberation Front, training them while honing her own developing powers. In China, their leader Reignfire recruits Jade Dragon, Collective Man, and Nuwa, the young mutants who make up “3Peace”. The rest of the Mutant Liberation Front joins Reignfire at a military base outside of Shanghai, where the government keeps info on China’s secret mutant prisons. They’re confronted by China’s superhuman soldiers, China Force. Moonstar tries to keep the other MLF members from killing their opponents, but Reignfire kills one of the China Force, simply to show the Chinese government how powerful he is. After locating the mutant prison, Reignfire leads 3Peace inside while leaving Moonstar and Feral behind to guard their flank. Inside the prison, it’s revealed that Reignfire has made a deal with the government and set up 3Peace to be turned over to Chinese custody. They try to escape, knocking Feral unconscious while fleeing the prison. Only Moonstar is left to stop them, but she refuses to. She lies to Reignfire, telling him that Nuwa’s powers knocked her out. Reignfire knows she’s lying, but lets her live. Moonstar doesn’t know if this means that her old friend has returned, or if Reignfire is only playing a game with her.

Continuity Notes
This issue is the debut of Chinese mutant activists 3Peace. They didn’t exactly catch on (it looks like not even Nicieza used the characters again).

Moonstar says that Reignfire found her after she “fell from Asgard”. Her Asgardian horse Brightwind has turned black and been renamed Darkwind. Moonstar became a Valkyrie after the New Mutants were kidnapped and taken to Asgard in an early New Mutants story. She decided to stay in Asgard at the end of the series' run.

This issue drops the first major hints that Reignfire is Sunspot. He appears in partial shadow twice, and both times it’s rather obvious that he’s supposed to be Sunspot. Moonstar’s motivation for working undercover is to help Reignfire return to who he used to be.

This is the rare example of an annual story that isn’t filler. Rather than focusing on the main cast, Nicieza goes back to the Moonstar subplot he established a year earlier. He resolves some of the mysteries from the previous MLF story, confirming that this is Dani Moonstar, and that she’s working undercover. Reignfire’s identity is practically confirmed, even while leaving the door open for more mysteries. This is a good example of Nicieza’s ability to develop long-running subplots that do actually pay off. It certainly seems as if he had a plan for all of this and wasn’t just randomly introducing a different plot every few months. Having Moonstar join the MLF is a smart way to integrate the original New Mutants cast with the more recent elements that developed in X-Force. Moonstar’s narration helps to make her role in the MLF sympathetic, even if it’s never revealed how exactly she plans to help Reignfire become Sunspot again. There’s also some attempt to develop generic MLF goon Forearm as a character, but I don’t know if anyone ever picked up on the idea that he wasn’t genuinely evil.

When Mike Wieringo passed away last year, a few of the tributes mentioned how out of place his style was in the ‘90s, and how many “serious” readers of the time just didn’t get it. I confess that I was one of those kids, because I can remember intensely disliking his art in this issue. Looking back on it, it’s definitely not as good as his later work, but it holds up okay. It’s certainly not deserving of the contempt I had for it. All of the figures are drawn well, most of them have distinctive faces, and the storytelling is clear, but I wasn’t able to get past the open style and cartoonish simplification. Not only did this art not have a thousand detail lines over everything, but the characters all looked “kiddie” to me. I was starting high school and didn’t have time for this cartoony stuff. It’s interesting that the books seem to be entering an era where guys like Wieringo, Dodson, and Hitch are doing the fill-ins, instead of the stereotypical Jim Lee clones of the day.

Siryn Song
Credits: Jim Kreuger (writer), Arnie Jorgensen (penciler), Bud LaRosa & John Lowe (inkers), Jeff Powell (letterer), Dana Moreshead (colorist)

While staying at Cassidy Keep in Ireland, Siryn hears a lullaby during the night. She follows the sound and finds the entrance to an old castle. She talks to the elderly lady inside. The woman helps Siryn deal with the pain of losing her mother while she was a small child. The next morning, she tries to show her friend Kelvin the castle, but it’s gone. They wonder if the woman was a ghost.

Continuity Note
Banshee is referred to as the “leader of the mutant group, Generation X” in a narrative caption. I don’t remember if the name “Generation X” was ever actually used in the series (just as Nate Grey was rarely called “X-Man”).

Typical back-up filler. I can see what Kreguer’s going for, but Siryn’s grief over her mother isn’t properly set up, so it doesn’t work. There’s actually more time spent on Siryn finding the castle than there is on her allegedly deep conversation with the old woman, which is a strange way to structure the story.


rob said...

It seems to be a common theme on this blog, admitting that some of today's talented artists didn't impress us when they were stuck doing X-title fillins in the mid90's. Add me to the list, unfortunately. Terry Dodson's style wasn't to my liking and I remember completely hating Bryan Hitch's work on the X-Men Prime oneshot. This is a shame, especially b/c I remember loving Roger Cruz's Jim Lee impersonations on Uncanny and Gen X.

I seem to remember Forearm was the only MLF member with any sort of sympathetic portrayal in the X-Force OZT issues, but beyond that I can't remember much with him.

Peter said...

I love Wieringo's art, always have (it was more suited for a book like Robin, Spidey or FF than for the X-titles though), but I never got this annual (didn't even know it existed), so I'll have to rectify that.

Nicieza did reuse the Collective Man (but not 3Peace) in his second Citizen V mini-series.

I still hate Hitch's work now, far more than when he was starting out. Early Hitch is basically Alan Davis art. Current Hitch is unbearably distorted to look at. He does nice backgrounds/technology, but his people are horrific with far too much shading that just doesn't belong. And it's not just the inks, because I tend to dislike his current bare pencils too. He was better on She-Hulk than he is on FF right now.

I remember loathing Quitely on New X-Men when that first come out and now loving him on All-Star Superman. But when I go look back on NXM, I still see why I disliked him so much because of the way he drew Emma and Jean. Not exactly eye-pleasing. Art's a funny thing ;)

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